Waterfalls: gosamer or frozen?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by alex_lofquist, Jan 8, 2004.

  1. I am sure that this question has no "right" answer, at least there
    will be no grades given.

    Last night I submitted a slide of Iguazu Falls to a local camera club
    competition. It was probably taken at 1/250th second giving a
    somewhat rigid appearance, yet I believe that it shows the dynamics
    of these powerful cataracts. One judge felt that it should have been
    given a much longer exposure to soften the effect to the viewer.

    I like the long exposures for small deep-woods waterfalls (they often
    are in shade giving little choice). The diaphanous image enhances the
    impact and tranquility that I wish to remember.

    I expect to do some more falling water pics in the very near future,
    and would welcome any thoughts.
  2. I never do the "cottony" water fall deal anymore. It's too cliche! My photos may not be good, but they are different. I think this is an example of how the original technology wasn't all that good but people got used to seeing photos made a certain, predictable way. A hundred years ago film ISO was about 6, but now it's much faster and we can catch a waterfall any way we want. So, I take advantage of this. Most all of the time I am just BORED with long exposure waterfalls, and water in general. It's been done to death.

    Kent in SD
  3. Hello Alex;
    There are a ton of intangibles and every scene is different. You have to look at your scene and size up what it is that you want to show. You need to be able to previsualize the results of the options you have and choose an exposure accordingly. To do this well, you need some practice, but a little research would help I think. Go to the library and look at lots of waterfall pictures, especially in photography magazines and see what others are doing. The current issue of Outdoor Photographer Magazine has the kind of information you are looking for.

    I really like a polarizer for wet surfaces and a neutral density filter gives me exposure options. There is mist around larger waterfalls that will get on your filter, so a towel of some sort is recommended. Play with the polarizer if you see any rainbows in the mist. Texture, power, or subtle interplays of light are all good reasons for fast shutter speeds. A more graceful and peaceful scene or a study of motion will be produced by long exposures. Some mid-range shutter speeds will look unpleasant.

    Sometimes you will be limited by amount of light to fast or slow. It really is fun to work with time and motion. Slow film is best for this. Have fun.
  4. rmi


    For large (a lot of water) waterfalls with a long drop (e.g., Yosemite Falls), I generally use a relatively fast shutter speed to freeze the action and show the power and force of the fall. For waterfalls with less water or lots of cascades, I'll choose a slow shutter speed to show the many different drops and falls and also to achieve a more tranquil and peaceful feel to the image.

    I have also read on the web where one photographer would make two exposures (one slow and one fast) of a fall and combine the two for yet another effect.

    To each his own I guess.
  5. Do both and see which one you like better.I myself still prefer to portray the constant motion of the water and render it as such by using a slower shutter speed. I would recommend using a polarizer to remove any glare on surrounding rocks or vegetation.
    Ed Lowe
  6. I happen to be one of the folks that likes the big ones shot with relatively short exposures and small ones shot with the longer silky exposures. To some extent I think that's what we are used to seeing. That and it may be harder to get the longer exposures, long enough on the really big falls. I'm just wondering how long and how it would look if you tried a real long exposure on something like Yosemite Falls. I'd guess nd filters and a cloudy day would help.
  7. Cotton Rules. Try 3 seconds stopped down, with ND filter or polarizer.
  8. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    I vary mine any where from 15 seconds to 1/500th. It just depends.

    Alex, obviously there aren't any hard-and-fast rules. I agree with a previous poster that if you want to display power than a fast shutter speed is more effective, if you want grace than a longer exposure is the way to go. If you have to deal with wind blowing folaige around the image then a long exposure may ruin your image. It's all part of the artist's eye.

    I'm one of those people who rarely takes just one shot with 35mm film; in fact with waterfalls I may take several. If you are shooting slide film remember that if you are metering off white water to correct for the color you are reading from. If you shoot very long shots you will likely need to use a color correction filter and do an exposure compensation for the longer exposure (you'll need to check with the film type you are using).
  9. As other people have said, both long exposures and short exposures can both work, depending on everything else about the image. [We can't comment on the image in question because it's not posted here, of course.]

    The judging in camera clubs is sometimes spotty. Often worth listening to, but it isn't the final answer about your images or the "right" way to take any particular image.

  10. My waterfall pictures are virtually all from the UP in Michigan, so what I say may not apply to big falls like Niagara, Igauzu, Victoria, etc. Having said that, I always take my waterfall pictures at a variety of shutter speeds and apertures. I'll have to admit that about 95% of the time I end up liking the cottony images better than the sharp edged images. Maybe I've just fallen into the stereotypical mode that a lot of other people have, but I THINK the reason people like those images better are the sense that the blurred edges portray movement of the water and we all know that the water is moving, not still.
    In my experience, I've always noticed that when I like a short exposure image, it is because the subjest in that image is something other that the water.
  11. My waterfalls are always long exposures, and I can't help it. I shoot large format film and that's a side effect of shooting at f/32 or f/45 all the time. I think the cliche cotton candy look is due in part to the fact that lots of these shots are taken with LF cameras.
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I too agree that while you are at the scene, shoot with different shutter speeds and see what you like best. Unless you live near by and/or can go back easily, once you get home, it will be too late to change your mind. And even if you can go back, the settings won't be exactly the same any more.
  13. I consider camera club judging a live version of the photo critique forum here on PN. Everyone's viewpoint is different, and many times viewpoints are greatly affected by the individual's personal tastes and style. I know my comments are, although I try to be objective.

    As far as waterfalls, I really don't care what's cliche or not. I like long exposures on water sometimes, and other times I like stop-motion. Depends on the falls.
  14. I think there's an interesting psychological effect here. We have seen countless examples of the cottony version in photographs taken with tripods and (in many cases) view cameras. The entire photograph is sharp, and is likely to have been carefully composed.

    Although the frozen look can appear in sharp, well-composed photographs, we've also often seen it in snapshots with the back of a tourist's ear out of focus in the foreground.

    I think this has taught us to associate the cottony look with better photographs. I still prefer the frozen version, don't know why.
  15. A word about camera club judges. My (admittedly limited) experience is that the judges seem to be very rigid in foillowing formulas and rules for photogrpahy. The result is the photographers who consistently score highly have technically correct photographs that are largely unimaginative and uninspiring. So photograph waterfalls at several shutter speeds, figure out what you like, identify how other photographers achieved results that you like, and over time you will hopefully end up with results that you like and also have some originality that you brought into the process.
  16. For competitions, submit what they like. This judge seems to have a bias towards a certain type of shot. In the future shoot some frames for your camera club and shoot others the way you like them.
  17. A technique I've used with interesting effects is to build exposure through multiple shots. Let's say that at your chosen aperture, your shutter speed should be 1/4 second. Make 8 exposures at 1/30 or 16 at 1/60. This can produce very dynamic results.
  18. Alex, take a look at this thread I started in August. There are side by side photos with short & long exposures. (I hope the link works!) Optimal Shutter Speed for Waterfalls I worded it technically on purpose and that's the way some of the answers came back. My conclusions are at the end, but basically I believe in gossamer for small waterfalls and frozen for big ones. But someone in that thread made a point that it seems to depend somewaht on how much whited out space will result in the picture. I tried the technique (8 exposures) Matt suggested, and it works for some falls, too. I never thought of two exposures: one long and one short that someone else suggested here -- good idea. But if I were the judge, I would've voted for the short, powerful exposure at Iguazu Falls like you.
  19. If no more waterfall pictures were taken the world would be far better off.
  20. j_a


    Frozen waterfalls?
    Is this what you mean?
  21. The best are the ones that are left unphotographed.
  22. Matt has a very interesting suggestion! I would be very pleasantly surprised if the effect differed from that of a continuous exposure of the same total duration. I have done this as an 'intermittent exposure' technique--but with much longer snaps.Any A/B comparions:)?
  23. If the images are judged by audience response, (and in your case, at least one of the judges) the gosamer wins almost every time. Very short exposures (under 1/1000th sec) sometimes do interesting things. I find exposures that duplicate what the eye sees (neither freezing or softening) have the least appeal. As others suggested, the more water moving over the falls, the shorter exposure necessary to get the gosamer effect. I would shoot the falls both ways (and every exposure time in between) & choose. Some examples with shutter speeds at Waterfalls
  24. The last comment on waterfalls seems to have been in 2004 -- is anyone reading this?
    The argument is said to be between long exposures (as much as 8 secs) versus high speed (1/500 or so). But neither do justice to the glory of any waterfall. Time exp produces a blank white patch (the hole where the water went thru), high speed freezes the moving spectacle to look like it's ice or glass.
    Best and only worthy option is MEDIUM-FAST exposure (1/60 - 1/30) on tripod. The delicious unfolding detail of the magnificent down-moving, ever-changing patterns is caught sharp at the top just after spillover, but as the momentum speeds up it begins to blur more and more, and this shows the movement AND the detail as the eye sees it. Anyone can prove this is best -- compare shots of the blurred-to-death 'waterfail' style with med-exp shots. A book of daylight time exposures would be deadly to look through, and wouldn't sell! Waterfalls are action spectaculars, not sunbeams or columns of thick white paint or dairy cream. Churning, crashing, fragmenting water must be seen separate from the clouds of misty spray which hover all around the majestic, thundering liquid conveyor belt.

Share This Page